light into ashes
May 1, 2012 3:07am
The Hard to Handle Jams
My own favorite version is 8/6/71 - it's so tight & driving, and Garcia goes supersonic.
The audience tape helps, of course, the way Garcia & the crowd play off each other. But hearing the 8/6 SBD, where Lesh is way up in the mix, makes it clear what a driving force he is in that jam, pushing Garcia along.
Also, on 8/6 Garcia dropped to his knees while playing the solo. How many times did that ever happen? It wins more points just for that - it's probably why the audience is going so crazy. http://archive.org/details/gd1971-08-06.GEMS.Smith.Kaslow-Todd.109430.flac24
It's interesting to hear the 8/7 Hard to Handle next to it - I think it falls flat in comparison. Though so close in style & note choices to 8/6, the jam just chugs along for most its length without much oomph, though Phil tries to nudge it up by slamming down some power chords. They finally start wailing a bit in the climax, and Jerry tries repeating the same ending as the night before, but it comes off a little mangled.... (If you hear it on its own without 8/6 in mind, though, it's still pretty good!)http://www.myspace.com/gratefuldead/music/albums/dick-s-picks-volume-35-8-7-71-san-diego-ca-8-24-71-chicago-il-11687130
The Fillmore East versions from April are very close to each other in style & quality. They really smoke all the earlier versions. 4/29 is very smoothly done - it builds tension nicely with each part flowing neatly into the next, until the perfectly-executed climax. http://archive.org/details/gd1971-04-29.sbd.multitracks.miller.114350.flac16
Some listeners prefer Garcia's more charged-up playing on 4/28, though, and the climax is handled differently: as the rest of the band returns to the main riff, Garcia keeps squealing away at the peak of his solo, and takes a few moments to rejoin the others.http://archive.org/details/gd1971-04-28.sbd.miller.106099.flac16
This is similar to the way it was done on 4/27, where Garcia also 'oversteps' the climax a little bit, but times it better - if anything I may find 4/27 more exciting, but it's a hard call. I may prefer 4/29 just because I've heard it more times (that can happen...)
But, hearing them all again, 4/25 jumps to the top and demands to be in any Top Three list of Hard to Handles. It's a relatively unsung version because it was never in wide circulation, so it was little-known until recently, but it has a truly jaw-dropping climax.
In an effort to find the best Hard to Handles, I decided to listen chronologically through all of the April '71 versions. (This is a song that got jammed better over time, so I'm not sure if any of the earlier '71 versions are as good - if any of them are, speak up!)
All these versions have the same structure – Pigpen raps a little bit before laying out; Weir will play a jagged, wiry solo; then Garcia comes in with a more smoothly-flowing solo; Phil pushes things along with a repeated 4-chord stomp and the band heats up; hopefully they come together in a climax at the end of the jam, but often not.
I tend to judge Hard to Handles by the strength of the climax. (Pigpen's part is usually pretty much the same!)
These are just brief notes, not meant to be a deep analysis.
3/24/71 - This one deserves an honorable mention. Weir has a standout solo, and there's a great hot climax - however, they then stumble their way back to the main riff; Garcia just keeps soloing when the others are ready to stop...
4/4 – Garcia is on wah-wah, an unusual touch. Weir’s solo rambles on aimlessly; Garcia’s solo is disjointed & not very energetic. As they start wandering adrift, Pigpen comes back at a random moment. Strange, not very good version.
4/7 – Weir is MIA for some reason, so Garcia starts the solo without him. Interesting to hear the Dead as a trio! But Weir comes back for a short solo. Garcia’s solo is sweet but lacks fire & peters out quickly.
4/10 – They sound tired. Weir’s solo goes nowhere; Garcia adds some pep, and they manage to build up some steam before stopping dead.
4/13 – Weir solos a while without saying much; Garcia takes over dramatically; Kreutzmann stands out on drums; Lesh has a very thick bass sound. There's a fine Garcia solo – very cool; maybe not in the top rank, but worth hearing.
4/14 – This one has more charge; Garcia & Weir slash out chords together for a while. Garcia’s solo is long & exploratory, and has some different touches; it loses direction at times but there are some nice moments, and it comes to a relaxed climax.
4/17 – Weir’s solo is rather weak; there's a quiet transition to Garcia; the jam builds up steam, but there's no climax at all. Overall this one's below average.
4/18 – Weir plays a stinging solo; Garcia’s solo starts out pretty laid-back but gradually gets pretty intense.
4/21 – Although the start of the song is messed up, the solos are very engaging. The climax is amazing, Lesh & Garcia egging each other on. The best so far - a must-hear!
4/22 – Pigpen raps longer than usual. The solo is long & leisurely – unfortunately the climax is seriously muffled as they lose track of each other.
4/24 – This one’s quicker & more concise: Weir’s solo seems shorter than usual. Garcia’s energized from the start, but seems to lose his way somewhat; the climax is unusually drawn-out, with Lesh pushing hard but Garcia less fluent than usual. Still worth a listen.
4/25 – Weir has definitely shortened his solo lately; Garcia’s solo is very exciting, really spine-tingling stuff. The Fillmore East works its magic, as this one is better than any of the previous versions. Absolutely awesome climax! http://archive.org/details/gd1971-04-25.sbd.matera.113038.sbeok.flac16
4/26 – Very perky Weir solo, one of his better ones; the band stays in a powerful groove through Garcia’s solo. He tries a couple different approaches, changing the dynamics; very similar finish to the night before, but not quite as good. http://archive.org/details/gd1971-04-26.113839.sbd.smith.boswell.flac16
4/27 – Weir seems a bit more tepid this night; once again he & Garcia play chords together for a while after his solo. Garcia doesn’t let us down; his solo is crisp & exciting & hard-rocking. There's a cool dynamic shift at 6:16, and they storm into another great climax – Garcia spins out the end differently this night, ending his solo line while the others return to the main riff, and joining them with perfect timing.http://archive.org/details/gd1971-04-27.sbd.boswell.smith.114094.flac16
The five Fillmore East versions are very similar to each other, differing mainly in nuances, and all are a cut above the earlier April versions. Going chronologically, you can hear them improving the jam over time, adding little tweaks, til by the end of April it's perfected.
The internal structure of the jam devolved a bit after the Fillmore East shows - after 3 months with hardly any shows, the Hard to Handle jam was simplified in that the summer versions don't have the same series of small changes they'd perfected by the end of April.
The summer versions are shorter, more straightforward & streamlined; the Hard to Handles of July & August are extremely similar to each other, all following the same pattern without much exploration.
5/29 – Poor audience tape. Weir’s solo is exceptionally long, but not much happens in it (mostly just a groove); Garcia finally starts his solo 6 minutes in. Sounds like it would be pretty good, if we could hear it...
6/21 – Weir doesn’t have much of a solo; Lesh is low in the mix (unusual for early ’71). Garcia wraps up a little climax just when you think he’s warming up; then after an odd stop-&-start break, the jam resumes to a protracted double climax, rusty but neat.
7/2 – Standard version. The jam has shortened noticeably since the spring. Interesting climax, where Garcia almost screeches off the rails.
7/31 – Chugs along nicely; standard climax. So similar to 7/2 they might almost be the same version.
8/4 – Loud bass, as with the rest of the month. Weir’s solo ends quickly, and Garcia also hastens to the finish (the jam’s over within 6 minutes). Garcia’s solo has many similarities to the 8/6 version, though less intense.
8/7 – Listening to this in the context of the other summer versions, it sounds much stronger in comparison, even outstanding. While not nearly as explosive as 8/6, Garcia’s playing is sharp and exciting, and Lesh is very active.
8/14 – Nice, propulsive version. The band drives hard through the end of the jam - though messy, it’s a standout.
8/26 – The last one. (Til 1982, anyway.) The SBD has some bad sound glitches during the jam and Lesh drowns everyone out, but the AUD sounds good and may be preferable. It’s striking that after all this time, Weir still can’t string together a consecutive solo, but still seems to be jabbing at random. This jam is cut from the same cloth as the other summer versions – Garcia’s in good form, but doesn’t pull any surprises. The final climax sounds garbled on both sources!
This post was modified by light into ashes on 2012-05-01 10:07:48